Gourd big or go home: Minnesotan grows world's largest pumpkin, breaks his own record

a giant pumpkin with a teddy bear on top
Travis Gienger of Anoka, Minn., holds his two-year-old daughter Lily and poses behind his pumpkin called "Michael Jordan" after winning the Safeway 50th annual World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Monday.
Eric Risberg | AP

Travis Gienger is the type of guy who likes to go big or go home. Only in his case it’s more like: Gourd big or go home. 

Gienger grows pumpkins. Big pumpkins. Ginormous, prize-winning pumpkins.

Still, back in the spring, when he looked down upon the basketball-shaped fruit forming in his patch, the Anoka County gardener had no idea he had a champion on his hands. He named the 10-day-old Atlantic giant pumpkin Michael Jordan for its perfectly round shape and moved on.

That pumpkin would go on to break a world record.

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Travis Gienger
Champion grower Travis Gienger traveled to the 50th World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in California with his family.
Courtesy of Travis Gienger

“The greatest basketball player of all time is now the greatest pumpkin of all time!” Gienger told MPR News by phone from Half Moon Bay, Calif. “I thought it was going to be basketball round, but it's not. It grew into this.”

Michael Jordan weighed in at 2,749 pounds, putting the 2,560-pounder (and former champion pumpkin) he grew last year to shame.

It was Gienger’s third trip hauling a great pumpkin from Minnesota to the World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, also known as the Pumpkin Capital of the World. He plans to be back again next year.

Gienger first competed in Half Moon Bay's annual weigh-off in 2020 and has won three of the city's last four giant pumpkin contests. The previous world record for heaviest pumpkin was set by a grower in Italy who produced a 2,702-pound squash in 2021, according to Guinness World Records.

In the meantime, what will he do with the $30,000 prize money? The 43-year-old father, who operates a gas fire table business by day, isn’t sure. Buy a boat? Save for college? Reinvest in seeds?

For now, he’s just basking in the pumpkin spice glow that comes with being a three-time world champ. “They gave me a jacket,” he said. “It’s like for the Masters. But probably more important.”

A man celebrates next to a giant pumpkin
Travis Gienger of Anoka, Minn., reacts after winning the Safeway 50th annual World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Monday.
Eric Risberg | AP